What is the ‘spoons’ method?

When dealing with a chronic illness, such as Lupus, it can be helpful to look at ways to manage and decrease symptoms. Dealing with stress better can help as can pacing yourself throughout the day! We might look at our diet and exercise to optimise our health and energy levels. One way can be by using the ‘spoon method’.

So what is the ‘spoons’ method? The ‘spoons’ method is a way of measuring a persons energy and is useful to help someone with a chronic illness plan their activities so they don’t end up exhausted and to help them manage their condition more effectively. 


In 2003 Christine Miserandino wrote an essay called ‘The Spoon Theory’ after she had used it to explain what having Lupus is like to a friend. Read here.

The premise is everyone starts the day with a certain number of spoons, then each activity uses a spoon or even two if it is strenuous. A good night’s sleep replenishes your spoons. If you run out of spoons and you carry on you effectively use some of your next days’ spoons and so you start with less. If you don’t sleep well you start with less!

You can replenish your spoons by resting or napping!

So maybe you start your day with 12 spoons, how will you use them? Take away 1 spoon if you had a bad night and 4 if you have a cold or some other kind of illness on top of your chronic illness.

Then look at how many you start with and allocate them to your day …

  • so one spoon for each of the following: getting up, taking meds, getting dressed, watching tv.
  • Two spoons for each of the following: showering, styling hair, reading, studying, surfing the net.
  • Three spoons for each of the following: making and eating a meal, driving, socializing, light housework.
  • Four spoons for each of the following: going to work or school, doctors’ appointments, exercise, shopping.

So you can see getting up, showered, dressed, taking meds, styling hair and getting breakfast has already used up 8 spoons so there are only 4 left so if you are off to work you are pretty much done for the day!

I think you could adjust the values to your own limits, for example, I have very short hair it takes a moment to style it I wouldn’t allocate any spoons for that. Also, a quick easy breakfast would probably only take 1 spoon whereas a cooked meal takes more energy to prepare!

It’s a useful tool however to help you explain to people how much you can manage and how seemingly mundane, simple tasks sap your energy.

I have a friend who has boundless energy and she will call and invite us over to do something… a beach walk drinks out something fun and I might say ‘I can’t today because I have to go shopping’ she will come back with ‘after shopping, come after!’ She doesn’t get that I can’t bounce from one activity to the next I will need to wait until the next day to do another ‘big’ thing! I miss being able to rush around and fill my days up it is so frustrating!

There is definitely a need for chronically ill peeps to monitor their activities and understand how an activity or situation might affect them in order for us to be able to make the most of the energy we have and minimize ‘flare-ups’.

Stress is a big factor in causing flare-ups and having some kind of handle and control over your time and activities can really help if life is getting stressful or there is a situation. We can’t stop life happening but we might be able to manage things so we don’t end up in a full flare. Recently I was feeling well and pottering along, no dramas and I was managing my time well, getting enough rest and also getting enough done so I felt fulfilled and content, then a situation hit us that was out of our control and would take time to settle down, I wasn’t sleeping so well since it was on my mind and I knew I would end up in full flare if I didn’t take control. So I scheduled my day, I included naps, dropped anything that wasn’t vital, I made time to meditate and de-stress and I made sure my diet was optimal and that I took my meds, the result was I was able to deal with the situation until it resolved and although I was tired and sore I was still able to function and think straight and once everything calmed down and was sorted I was able to recover some equilibrium very quickly!

As hard as it is and it feels selfish to put ourselves first it is necessary and in the end beneficial to everyone. It goes against the grain to do it though, doesn’t it? One way I do better with this is to be sure to look out for my husband and do small things so he knows I appreciate him and all he does. Just little things if that’s all I can do like getting him a coffee when he gets in, hugs and kisses, let him unload his day on me and listen! Times when I am well I will do more and pick up the slack but I am careful now not to overdo things because I would rather be consistent in what I can do that overdo it and end up woman down!

I also changed things like getting my long hair cut so it was easier to manage, I love it and it has definitely made my mornings easier! I order my weekly shop online so I don’t have to trail ‘around the shop, sometimes being on the computer is too much so I have a shopping list saved and I use that if needs be … at least I know we will eat for the week! I try to organize my clothes so it is easy for me to choose an outfit and I have paired down my make-up for every day so it doesn’t take long to do but I still feel groomed and I ramp it up if I am going out.

Living with a chronic illness, like Lupus, isn’t easy but we can make it easier by being mindful of our needs and energy levels. We can still be thoughtful and outward-looking and it’s easier to be that way if we plan for and accommodate our illness rather than trying to ignore it or push it away! Chances are it’s not going anywhere so its a much better idea and more productive to acknowledge it and work to tame it, and the spoons theory might just help!



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